It's a Shakespeare-heavy start to the year, and first up we have Twelfth Night
, the second of the Donmar Warehouse's season at Wyndham's. The big-name draw this time is Derek Jacobi as Malvolio, but there's plenty of familiar faces elsewhere in the production. Director Michael Grandage and designer Christopher Oram give us quite a fast-paced, pared-down Twelfth Night
, with both the set and the action having a no frills quality. There's been many mentions that this is quite a light production, not really exploring the melancholy inherent in the play, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the scene of Malvolio in the dark room, which doesn't have the bleakness that I usually associate with it - if anything, Malvolio's torment ends not because Sir Toby regrets how far he's allowed things to go, but because he's got bored of the games.
If some of the play's nuances have been lost, it's a trade-off for a great deal of clarity in the storytelling, and a very funny production. It boasts some of the strongest performances I've seen in the play, starting of course with Jacobi's misguided, rather than malevolent, Malvolio. The real test is of course the scene of him reading "Olivia's" letter, and here the standout moment is how long it takes him to notice that "M" is his own initial, despite looking for clues hinting at his identity. His reading of this scene may eclipse Desmond Barritt's, which I remember very clearly from years ago, but which was a broader performance. Elsewhere Guy Henry was a particular favourite of vanessaw
's as Sir Andrew, while Ron Cook makes for a sturdier-than usual Sir Toby Belch. Indira Varma (of Rome
fame) is a fantastic Olivia, with brilliant and very subtle timing. Vanessa and I disagreed on Alex Waldmann's Sebastian: She wasn't too impressed (though she noted he looked "quite dishy" in a tight vest) whereas I thought he was by leaps and bounds the best Sebastian I've seen - it's a bit of a thankless role as he's not in it much, and when he is it's basically to act as Viola's double and cause confusion, but I thought Waldmann gave him a great deal of personality. You could just put this down to me being biased because I saw him flash his hairy bits in last year's Troilus and Cressida
, but judging from the audience's reaction I wasn't alone - he got huge laughs with almost every line and gesture. The impressive performances elsewhere made up for Victoria Hamilton's lacklustre Viola, while Mark Bonnar's Orsino barely registers until the end.
Overall this is a very funny, if strangely one-dimensional approach to one of Shakespeare's best-loved comedies. Twelfth Night
by William Shakespeare is booking until the 7th of March at Wyndham's Theatre.